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Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium

Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium

In “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” W. B. Yeats asserted that his images “[g]rew in pure mind” (630). But the golden bird of “Sailing to Byzantium” may make us feel that “pure mind,” although compelling, is not sufficient explanation. Where did that singing bird come from? Yeats’s creative eclecticism, blending the morning’s conversation with philosophical abstractions, makes the notion of one and only one source for any image implausible: see Frank O’Connor’s comments on the genesis of “Lapis Lazuli,” for example (211-22). We cannot discard Yeats’s note to the poem, “I have read somewhere that in the Emperor’s palace at Byzantium was a tree made of gold and silver, and artificial birds that sang” (825), although its first four words sound suspiciously like the flimsy cloak of respectability that Yeats threw over his boldest inventions. Some have suggested that the bird came from his reading of Byzantine history, Gibbon, or even Hans Christian Andersen (Jeffares 257). But a previously unacknowledged source is worth considering: Lear’s consoling speech to Cordelia in the play’s final act, as they are led off to prison and death.

Yeats was greatly moved by King Lear and referred to it with some frequency in print over 40 years, with the references intensifying as he aged. Whether calling it “mad and profound” in February 1926 (Frayne and Johnson 464), several months before writing “Sailing to Byzantium,” or explicitly envisioning himself as like Lear-elderly yet fierce, inspired by “frenzy,” in ‘An Acre of Grass”-the play and the aged king were powerful in his imagination. Thus, when we read Yeats’s wish to be transfigured, we should turn again to King Lear:

Once out of nature I shall…

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…onal-the aging man, artist, parent, menaced by the inevitable; it spoke to him of art’s power to combat the world’s terrors. Whether one escaped imprisonment by becoming a singing bird or sang and prayed in a prison from which the only escape was death, art transformed by love was the most powerful human defense against evil and mortality.

Works Cited

Frayne, John P., and Cotton Johnson, eds. Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats. vol. 2. New York: Columbia UP, 1975.

Jeffares, A. Norman. A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford UP, 1968.

O’Connor, Frank. My Father’s Son. New York: Knopf, 1969.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear Ed. Kenneth Muir. London: Methuen, 1971.

Yeats, William Butler. The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Ed. Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

Society’s Influence on 1984 and George Orwell

Society’s Influence on 1984 and George Orwell

“To say ‘I accept’ in an age like our own is to say that you accept concentration-camps, rubber truncheons, Hitler, Stalin, bombs, aeroplanes, tinned food, machine guns, putsches, purges, slogans, Bedaux belts, gas-masks, submarines, spies, provocateurs, press-censorship, secret prisons, aspirins, Hollywood films and political murder” (Bookshelf I).

Politics, society, economy, and war during the forties had a direct impact on life at the time. A good example of this influence was the writing of Eric Arthur Blair, whose pen-name was George Orwell (Bookshelf II).

George Orwell’s 1984 is written from a third person perspective-in this case, a selective omniscient, focusing mostly on the character of Winston Smith. The story was written in 1949-the same year Silly Putty was invented (Bookshelf III)-and was a prediction of the future world (as Orwell saw it). The story starts out in the residence of Winston, where he begins to write a diary. He does not know if the year is 1984, though. It must have been “around that date, since he was fairly sure that his age was thirty-nine, and he believed that he had been born in 1944 or 1945” (Orwell 10). He works for the Ministry of Truth, in the Records Department. The job of the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue-in Newspeak; the native language in Oceania, where Winston lived) was to be concerned with the news, entertainment, fine arts, and education of Oceania (Orwell 7-8). The society he lives in is a totalitarian society and he works for the government, along with most of the people in the society. He has negative thoughts about the governmental system that he lives in and he starts to become curious if there is a way to over throw this…

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V-Quotations1: Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), U.S. suffragist, politician. Quoted in: Hannah Josephson, Jeanette Rankin: First Lady in Congress, ch. 8 (1974).

*Bookshelf ’95-Copyrights (from books cited on CD)

1-The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia University Press. Copyright (c) 1993 by Columbia University Press. All rights reserved

2-The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia is licensed from Columbia University Press. Copyright (c) 1995 by Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

3-The People’s Chronology is licensed from Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Copyright (c) 1994 by James Trager. All rights reserved.

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1949.

Ross, William T. “Pacifism vs. Patriotism: The Case of George Orwell.” Weber Studies. Ogden, Utah: Weber State University, Spring 1995

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